Finding a voice online

Sometimes I struggle with writing on this blog. I’m at no loss of things to share, but I sometimes feel uncomfortable about my tone. I want to be inviting and I don’t want to be exclusive, and I’m afraid of being smug, snarky, or wrong. Unfortunately, I think that all that hedging leaves me a little tepid-sounding. I feel like I don’t come off as being in any particular camp, and I’m not sure that being so neutral is always helpful.

So I was struck the other day when someone mentioned to me that one of my blog posts had been “less than positive” about an experience I had at a local school. The post in question was this one, where I visited San Domenico School for half a day and saw their 1:1 iPad program in action. I was back at San Domenico last week for their iTeach conference, which is one of the best PD experiences I’ve had in a long time. One of the things that drew me to to iTeach was my admiration for the teachers I met during that visit: they’re working to bring 1:1 solutions to the classroom in incredibly thoughtful and creative ways.

I was stunned to hear that my review had resonated badly, especially with someone I respect and who I would never want to insult. Also, I feel like I barely take any positions on this thing that I don’t immediately backpedal from, so I was surprised that I could have provoked such a reaction at all.

Worried, I ducked back to the parking lot, sat in my car, and pulled up the post on my phone. I re-read it frantically, trying to figure out what I’d said that was so offensive. After three re-reads, I still couldn’t figure it out. There were two cracks I made that might have landed badly: I said I was stunned when a little girl called me a “digital immigrant,” and I have a philosophical disagreement with treating the internet like a “walled garden,” as I described one teacher’s set resources for a particular class.

I spent a little time feeling terrible about this, until I realized something: these are two things that I believe in passionately. I interact with the internet differently from my students, but I don’t think that makes me instantly dismissive as a “digital immigrant.”  I had an Apple IIe in my bedroom in about 1985, for heaven’s sake. Also, I think there’s great value in teaching students about how to discover worthwhile and not-worthwhile resources online. One of the best educational experiences I’ve had was when a history instructor in college gave us an activity that illustrated the importance of knowing your source. She had me and my classmates read articles about the West Nile virus from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Austin American-Statesman, and The Onion. The last article was about President Bush sending troops to West Nile–and one very sweet, very young girl in my class didn’t know what The Onion was and thought the piece was real news story, not a satire from a humor magazine. Learning how to read for information and for context is a critical skill, and I think it’s one that’s worth talking about, even obliquely, even with young students. I imagine this teacher is doing that, too; he just didn’t say as much in that particular conversation, and he stated his own views on why limiting the content worked well for his class. I don’t think that’s a bad or ineffective way of teaching; I just don’t happen to want to do things in the same way.

So I could back off of these points of view, but I won’t, because 1) I really don’t think of myself as a digital immigrant, and 2) I really don’t want training wheels for my internet. And, also, these are just my two opinions in the midst of the overwhelmingly positive experience I had. Whether San Dominco is doing great work or not is not at issue—-because holy smokes, they do great work. I just happen to feel strongly about two subjects that came up during my visit.

So what have I learned? In general, this reaffirms that I should stick to my guns with things I believe in. But more pressingly, I think I was being cautious about the wrong things. If someone could read that post and come away thinking I wasn’t a fan of San Domenico, then I’m doing it wrong. I need to be more mindful of making myself clear, not of just being so oblique that my intent is lost in translation.

Perhaps that’s my writing resolution for the summer: to find my voice more clearly. Luckily, I have lots to write and think about this summer; here’s hoping I can make myself better understood.

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